Canadian Woodworking

Finishing Touch: exterior painting essentials

Author: Carl Duguay
Photos: Adobe Photos
Published: August September 2023
exterior painting
exterior painting

A fresh coat of paint is an economical way to boost your home’s curb appeal and help protect it from the elements.

A number of factors have an impact on how often you might want to repaint your house, including the type of sid­ing, the quality of paint used, the location of your house, its exposure to natural elements and how you feel about the house’s overall appearance. The obvious signs that a paint job is in your near future include peeling, cracking, flaking or fading paint, and gaps in wood siding or in caulking around windows and doors. And if you plan to move, a fresh coat of paint is one of the most cost-effective ways to spruce it up.

Don’t begrudge a new coat of paint. It not only increases the appearance and value of your house, but provides enhanced protection from the natural elements, removes mould and mildew buildup, and increases the lifespan of siding. The good news is that almost any homeowner can repaint their house.

Spray Time?
Spray equipment can make the task of painting a surface a lot easier. It might not make sense to spray paint on if you only have a small area to do and you don’t already have the equipment. For larger surfaces it can be a serious time-saver, though. (Photo by Fuji)

Spray paianting

Protect Yourself
Spraying comes with the necessity to protect yourself in different ways. Your lungs and face are two obvious considerations, though overspray on other parts of the house or objects in the area can also be a challenge on a windy day.

Preparing to paint

Choose Your Equipment Carefully
The right type of roller or brush can make a big difference to how smoothly the job goes and how successful the final results are. A good roller for concrete might not make a good roller for wood siding or other surfaces.

Choose Your Equipment Carefully

Where to Start?
Starting with the soffit and fascia is a common approach, though your situation may be different. Think through the steps involved before starting.

where to start

Mask It
It might be worth your time to mask off finished areas before moving on to the next stage. This is especially true when spraying a surface.

mask it

Types of paint

The two most widely used outdoor paint types today are latex and acrylic. I canvassed six professional painters with an average of 16 years experience, and all nominated acrylic paint as their choice for exterior painting projects. Though acrylic paint is water based, it does contain chemicals, and it’s easier to clean brushes and rollers with paint thinner followed by warm soapy water. It’s durable, long-lasting and has excellent resistance to fading caused by exposure to the sun. Because it expands and contracts with the material it’s painted on, it’s less prone to cracking or flaking. Temperature extremes have less of an effect on acrylic paint than latex or oil-based paint. Acrylic paint is more expensive than latex paint, but because it’s more durable it might be worth the cost in the long term.

Latex paint is water-based. It’s easy to brush or roll, dries quickly, cleans up with water, is the least toxic and is typically less expen­sive than other types of paint. It’s not quite as flexible as acrylic paint, but it’s still unlikely to flake or crack. Latex paint usually has slightly better coverage than acrylic paint and has fewer VOCs (volatile organic compounds) than other paints. Latex is also the cheapest paint to purchase.

Oil-based paint is durable, dries hard and shrinks less than other paint, but is not as widely used because of its high level of VOCs and also because it’s more prone to cracking and fading.

Exterior paint is typically available in flat, satin and gloss sheens. A flat sheen tends to leave a chalky appearance and is more prone to damage from abrasive cleaners or power washers. Satin paint is somewhat glossier than flat yet relatively low in reflection so it’s better able to hide any imperfections in the siding. For a very dura­ble finish with more visible shine and greater resistance to cleaners, choose a glossy paint.

Regardless of which type of paint you select, choose one that provides resistance to blistering, peeling, chalking, fading and dirt pickup, is self-priming, and can be applied in temperatures down to 10°C. In the bigger scheme of things price shouldn’t be a major factor when buying paint. Get the best quality paint you can afford – it’ll look better for longer.

When to paint

While spring or fall is touted as the best time to paint your house, it’s not always the most convenient time for many home­owners. Not to fret, though, as you can safely paint during the summer as long as the weather forecaster predicts a stretch of warm (not hot), dry weather. The length of time it will take to paint your house depends on a slew of factors, including the square footage and height of your house, how much prep work needs to be done, the number of people who will do the paint­ing, how much experience they have, how many hours a day you’ll work at the task, how the paint will be applied, the qual­ity of paint you’ll be using and the vagaries of weather. I suggest you aim for a period when the weather is expected to be dry for at least two weeks and you can dedicate at least a week of your time to work on the task. To reduce stress ensure you have everything you need on hand beforehand.

In any event, make sure you read and understand the applica­tion instructions for the brand of paint you select. Some paints dry in as little as 30 minutes while others take several hours. Some can be applied in temperatures as high as 50°C, others at a maxi­mum of 30°C. Generally, you’re safe to paint when humidity levels are under about 70%. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on wind speed. Too much wind can not only dry the paint too quickly, but it can also result in dust and debris settling on freshly painted surfaces. In reality, you’re unlikely to find a two-week stretch of weather that has the perfect temperature, humidity levels and wind speed. Take a look at the long-term forecast before starting. And as you work, if a day will be windy or be hotter than normal, just don’t paint that day.

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What you need to paint

You can paint the whole house with a couple of good qual­ity polyester brushes – a 3″ to 4″ wide brush for siding and a 1″ to 1-1/2″ for trim. If you want to speed things up use a roller. Choose a 3/8″ or so nap for smooth surfaces and around 1/2″ for rough surfaces.

The fastest method is with a paint sprayer. There are three types (airless, pneumatic and HVLP) and most can be rented at your local box store. Whichever type you choose ensure you understand how it works. If you’ve never used one before you’ll want to put aside some time to practice before you commit to painting your house. With spray painting there is more prep and aftercare work involved and you’ll use more paint. Where you might get up to 400 square feet brushing, expect to get around 150 square feet spraying. You’ll need to mask off trim work, outlets, cables, gas or electrical meters and anything else you don’t want sprayed over. And don’t forget to lay drop cloths over plants that are in close proximity to the house.

Apart from paint and primer, here is a basic list of what you’ll likely need for a brush and/or roller job: wide and narrow polyes­ter brushes; roller frame and covers; paint tray; drop cloth; ladder or scaffolding; painter’s tape; scraper; sandpaper; and caulking gun and caulk.

Preparing to paint

A few days before you intend to start painting it’s a good idea to get the prep work done. The first thing you want to do is wash your house with an abrasive cleaner to remove mould, mildew, dirt and grime. Painting over dirty siding or peeling paint will significantly reduce the lifespan of your paint job. Use a long-reach wash brush or a low-pressure washer, otherwise you could damage your siding and the seal around windows and doors.

Follow this up with a visual inspection. You might need to scrape away peeling paint or replace damaged siding or rotten wood trim. For small areas a paint scraper works well, but for large areas use a random orbit or 1/4 sheet palm sander. Remove any damaged caulk around windows and doors and countersink any protruding nail heads. Re-caulk as needed. Finally, tape over (or remove where feasible) any items you don’t want painted (house number sign, mailbox, electrical outlets, hardware and the like).

Application tips

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to where you begin painting. However, pro contractors who have learned the art of painting efficiently typically begin by painting the soffits, fascia and trimwork. They next do the walls, working from the top downward, leaving window frames and doors for last.

Many of the problems that people encounter when painting have little to do with the paint or the tools they’re using, but more to do with attitude. If you approach it as an onerous job that needs to be completed as quickly as possible, your results may be disappointing. A key to a successful paint job is patience and attention to detail.

If you’ve not done much or any interior or exterior painting before, it’s worth the time to practice painting on some scrap ply­wood or large sections of cardboard. Start every brush stroke in an unpainted section and brush toward the painted area. Sweep the brush up and off the work surface in the same movement. If you stop the brush and then lift it off or set the brush down on a fin­ished area to start the stroke, it will leave extra paint, which shows up as a brush mark or darker spot. To avoid lap marks it’s best to paint reason­ably small sections at a time so that you always maintain a wet edge.


Carl Duguay - [email protected]

Carl is a Victoria-based furniture maker and the web editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.

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